This time, Morgan gets best of Coppin in MEAC

March 14, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -When Morgan State rebuffed one last, desperate rush from Tywain McKee and Coppin State last night, the Bears were finally able to let go of their 2008 nightmare.

McKee's torrid 30-point performance almost brought Coppin back from an 18-point deficit in the second half, but Morgan escaped Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a 75-67 victory that was as much backyard brawl as it was tournament basketball.

The win sent the No. 1-seeded Bears (22-11) into tonight's 7 o'clock Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference final in search of their first NCAA Division I tournament berth. They still have to beat Norfolk State, which outlasted South Carolina State, 74-71, in last night's second semifinal.

A year ago, Morgan was denied that opportunity when Coppin pulled a 62-60 upset in the MEAC final. This year the Battle of Baltimore was played out in the semifinals, but with eerie similarities to last season.

"They're crosstown rivals, and we see them a lot in the summer," Morgan's Rogers Barnes said, seated at an interview table with teammates Reggie Holmes and Jermaine "Itchy" Bolden.

"All three of us were here last year. They took it away from us last year. And every time we play them, we try to get what we deserve ... what they took from us last year."

Morgan survived serious foul trouble and Coppin's pressure defense, and watched a seemingly safe lead trimmed to five points with 28 seconds left on McKee's three-pointer.

But the Bears didn't let history repeat this time. Their perimeter game saw to it. Holmes (St. Frances) scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half, and Barnes (River Hill) and Bolden (Douglass) each finished with 17. In a game that featured 51 fouls, 63 free throws and two disqualifications, Bears coach Todd Bozeman had to bite his lip to spare his wallet.

"I'm proud of the guys because tonight they faced some adversity," Bozeman said, "and I won't name it because I'll get in trouble."

Morgan's 6-foot-8 Kevin Thompson (Walbrook) picked up three fouls in the first half and fouled out with 3:02 left after getting just seven minutes in the second half. The Bears' 6-10 Rodney Stokes (Old Mill) played just two minutes in the second half and never scored. Together, Morgan's two big men combined for three points and six rebounds.

Complicating matters, Coppin (13-19) launched a box-and-one with McKee playing Holmes in the second half, and the Bears' sharpshooter went scoreless until the final two minutes. Mix in the fact that Bolden served up seven turnovers with his seven assists, and Morgan had real issues.

After getting some bench time in the second half, Bolden responded with nine points in the game's final six minutes. Then, when McKee narrowed Morgan's lead to 72-67 with 28 seconds to play, Holmes hit three of four free throws to preserve the win.

The loss closed out McKee's record-setting career at Coppin.

"Special players don't come up all the time," Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said. "There's a certain drive some people have in life to be successful, and Ty has that."

MEAC FINAL MORGAN STATE (22-11) VS. NORFOLK STATE (13-17) Tonight, 7, Winston-Salem, N.C. TV: ESPNU

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